Israel Yet to Change Criteria to Aid Homeless People Despite Two Years of Attempts

As reported by Haaretz earlier this week, homeless people who apply to welfare offices are often rejected on the grounds of cleanliness or if they don't seem apathetic

A homeless person in Tel Aviv.
Moti Milrod

The Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry is aware that its criteria for aiding homeless people need to be changed, and it has been working on a proposed revision for two years already, ministry documents reveal. Yet despite this, no changes have yet been made.

The ministry currently defines a homeless person as someone in a state of physical and/or emotional neglect, who is generally disconnected or alienated from a supportive family. A homeless person doesnt fight to change his situation and isnt capable of maintaining a normal life.

Consequently, as Haaretz reported earlier this week, homeless people who apply to welfare offices for assistance are often rejected on the grounds that the very fact of asking for help proves they are fighting to change their situation. They are also rejected if they look too clean and neat or maintain contact with their families.

Last June MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu), who heads a Knesset subcommittee on homeless people, urged the ministry to alter itsdefinition so a homeless person could be someone who is interested in changing his situation and leading a normal life in the future. She also asked it to drop the criteria relating to appearance and contact with family, arguing that a homeless person should be defined simply as someone who lives in a place thats unfit for human habitation, harmful, exploitative, unsafe or unstable.

In a response sent in July, the ministrys director general, Avigdor Kaplan, wrote that the ministry is in the process of revising the definition at this very moment, and as part of this revision, all mention of a homeless person being uninterested in changing his situation will be dropped.

The ministry did not respond to Haaretzs inquiry as to whether the revised definition will also drop the criteria related to appearance and family contact. But in any event, six months later, the new definition has yet to be issued.

Moreover, Kaplans response was nothing new. His predecessor as director general, the late Eliezer Yavlon, had also told Ben Ari that the existing definition was inappropriate, but his statements, too, did not lead to any change.

In response to a freedom of information request by Yedid – the Association for Community Empowerment, the ministry said it routinely makes exceptions, enabling it to help more than 50,000 homeless people a year who dont meet its own criteria. But Yedid believes that even with these widespread exceptions, thousands of homeless people are still not being helped.

As Haaretz reported this week, one person who isnt being helped is Gilad (not his real name), who has been living in an abandoned car for more than three years and suffers from depression and other illnesses. His request for assistance was turned down because He isnt neglected or dirty, hes applied to people who can help him, he isnt defeated and apathetic.

Another person, Yonatan, has been sleeping on the streets or in public parks for over a year, but was rejected because he is in good and even regular contact with this mother and is fighting hard to change his situation.

The ministry said it began revising the regulation in question several months ago, in light of the large gap between this regulation and the ministrys written professional directives on the definition and care of homeless people. The revised version will remove anachronistic definitions which characterize homeless people in a way that hasnt reflected the ministrys policy for years, it added.

Because the ministry is currently expanding its services for homeless people, publication of the updated regulation was delayed so that it could include the full range of solutions and frameworks available, the statement continued. Last April, for instance, the ministry opened a rehabilitation hostel, and two weeks ago, it solicited bids for additional hostels.

Nevertheless, in light of Haaretzs report, which painted a picture that doesnt reflect the ministrys policy, we will consider splitting the regulation in two, so as to immediately update and correct the portion that deals with the definitions, the statement concluded.